09 December 2009


I've been thinking about the word freedom a lot lately, ever since M. introduced it into our Ignatian spiritual direction times.  This entire week in my meditations, I've asked for more freedom in my life, freedom to be my true self.  It has been exhilirating to ask for that and meditate on it, and I have felt a sense of freedom, a lightness of wings, a feel of flight.

Last night, I read a chapter called "Women and Spiritual Direction" in Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther and I was enthralled by the wisdom and insight of her words.  Another way of putting it could be--what my former spiritual director (I'll call her R.) did wrong and why.  But that would be limiting the scope of the chapter because it did much more than show what spiritual directors should not do or should do.  It showed me a particularly feminine/feminist way of understanding women's experience of spirituality and what to be aware of--about myself and about my relationship to spirituality and religion.

According to Guenther, women's greatest sin is not pride as Milton in Paradise Lost argues.  It's self-contempt--hatred of self, hatred of body--to the point of rejecting the idea that God could love them.  Self-contempt leads to a rejection of inner authority and a passivity that leads to hidden rage and triviality and an inability to mature and grow.  (Guenther talks about "sin" with sensitivity, how sin is a word to talk about what keeps us from receiving God's love not to bring judgment)

Within the sacred space of spiritual direction, rage and anger can be experienced and processeed--and indeed need to be for healing and growth to happen.

Another thing that I found fascinating was the idea that many women feel an innate sense of guilt and shame--even if they can't point out anything specific that they have done wrong.  It cripples them and in its most extreme form, makes them feel as if they shouldn't even be living.

Sobering topics but refreshing to read because I saw an articulation of my experiences along with other women I know.  I especially loved a quote from Madonna Kolbenschlag who wrote in Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye that women experience a "moment of atheism" when they outgrow their faith and realize their view of God was distorted.  It's a sharp, on the money way of describing the loss of God that occurs with confrontation of religion distortion and pain.

So what does this have to do with freedom?  I find feminist discourse liberating and reading Guenther's feminist interpretations of spiritual direction was just that.  It provided useful instructions on avoiding the pitfalls of guilt and shame from patriarchal religion and an alternative to finding spiritual freedom as a woman.

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